The timing of the Hong Kong International Races being
contested only 1 month after the Breeders’ Cup often spoils the likelihood of America’s best turf horse from trying to compete. However, for the first time since 2010,
American horses are going to make the effort to win some of the most prestigious
races in Asia.
Little Mike and King Kreesa have made the exhausting trip to
Hong Kong to try and carve out a piece of the $72 Million HKD ($9.6M USD) in prize
money being offered in this year’s Hong Kong International Races. The
international races are made up of the 6 furlong Sprint, the Mile, the 1 ¼ mile
Cup, and the 1 ½ mile Vase.
For those unfamiliar with Hong Kong, and their racing system,
the city state is home to 7 million people, 2 race tracks and boasts a yearly
racing betting handle equal to all of the tracks combined in the U.S. Sha Tin, the
track where the International Races are to be contested has a 1 1/8 mile main
turf track with a highly advanced water draining system to help maintain the
racing surface during the very damp rainy season in Southeast Asia. This system
creates a very consistent racing surface often rated as good despite an annual
rainfall of nearly 10 feet per year!
Fortunately for Little Mike and King Kreesa, as well as the
rest of the runners, December is one of the most moderate months of the year
in the tropical climate where little rain is seen and temperatures often range
between 60º and 70ºF.
The one question the pair from America will need to answer:
Can they turn right? Sha Tin contests races clockwise which is opposite of all
racing venues in the U.S. Also, those that remember the Dubai racing carnival, Little
Mike did not show his best form in the Duty Free.
First to race of the American pair is King Kreesa, who is
planning his assault on the one turn Mile. This will be no easy task. Having
suffered a mild fever during the 14 hour flight to Hong Kong, he has missed out
on some of his intended training. Recent reports from on track veterinarians
suggest he has regained his health and is now looking much better during his
morning workouts. However, he will need to dig deep and find his best to
succeed against this highly acclaimed group assembling for the Hong Kong Mile.
King Kreesa has had a mixed season in the USA, but he is
clearly at his best at around the one mile distance, in which he will race on Sunday.
Finishing a very respectable second, 1 ¼ lengths behind Wise Dan
in the Fourstardave Handicap earlier this year, we know he can compete with the
best in the world. His pace pressing running style recently saw him to victory
in an overnight stakes at Belmont as his final prep for the Hong Kong Mile. If
he is to find the winner’s circle at Sha Tin, King Kreesa will need to best a
talented field including Moonlight Cloud, Sky Lantern, and local Hong Kong
miler Glorious Days. His front running style suits him well in a race typically
void of fast pace. Able One cruised to victory at odds of 66-1 in 2011 by sitting
chilly on the front end, turning it on early down the stretch and never
The second of the American invaders is four-time Grade 1 winner
Little Mike. He will be seeking glory in Hong Kong’s most prestigious race, the
Hong Kong Cup. Run over the 1 ¼ mile distance, the $20 Million HKD purse
attracts some of the best middle distance turf horses from Japan, Europe, and
Australia. This year is no exception. Cirrus Des Aigles is back for the fourth straight year, and is determined to find a way to win one of the few
unconquered international grade 1’s in his esteemed career. Also part of the
field is reigning Hong Kong Horse of the Year Military Attack who has been
trained this season specifically to peak at this race. He, like Little Mike, likes to sit near the front and has one of the most explosive turns of foot to
be found in Hong Kong.
The key to success in this race is positioning into the
first turn. With the race starting right in front of the grandstand mid
stretch, there is a short run up, about 1 furlong, to the first turn.
California Memory, winner from the last two editions of this race has won from
the inside post position and under brilliant positioning from his talented
rider, Matthew Chadwick. His strategy, knowing the race had no pace setter was
to keep his deep closer much closer to the front of the pack than usual and to
save ground on the rail. The strategy was extremely successful, rocketing his
mount to victory both times he utilized this approach.
Sha Tin is extremely favorable to closers, and like many
European turf races, the first mile of the race is merely the means to the end.
Slow pace and uneventful trips set up a cavalry charge of a sprint coming down
the long stretch. This is where Little Mike’s American running style can be
very advantageous in a race unaccustomed to dedicated front-runners. Little
Mike has the speed and the class to get far out front and never look back. If
he does control the pace in an attempt to try and outsprint the opposition at
the finish, he may find himself in a position similar to this year’s Dubai Duty
Free where he was swallowed by the field at the top of the stretch.
Given the talent of both of these runners and the difficulty
of the travel, I would not be surprised by any outcome. But as a fan of both
American and Hong Kong racing, I am extremely excited to see some great horses
make the trip and compete on the world stage.